Armenia has said it is prepared to work with international mediators to reach a ceasefire with Azerbaijan as the two rivals fight over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region, where fierce clashes spilled into a sixth day.
Armenia “stands ready” to engage with France, Russia and the United States, who co-chair the OSCE group of mediators to the conflict, “to re-establish a ceasefire regime”, the Armenian foreign ministry said in a statement on Friday.
However, the statement added that “this aggression against Nagorno-Karabakh will continue to receive our strong and resolute response”.
The development came after ethnic Armenian officials in the breakaway Nargorno-Karabakh region reported another 54 military casualties among Armenian-backed troops, bringing the death toll to 158 soldiers.
Armenia’s statement on Friday marks the first sign that dialogue could be possible in resolving the latest flare-up, after days of Yerevan and Baku refusing to heed calls by Western leaders and Russia to back down.
Azerbaijan has not reported any military casualties but said 19 civilians have been killed in Armenian shelling.
There are fears of the clashes expanding into an all-out, multi-front war that could suck in regional powers Turkey and Russia.
Turkey is Azerbaijan’s strongest supporter on the international scene, while Russia has a military base in Armenia.
Ankara has been accused by Armenia of supplying fighters to the conflict, drawing them out of northern Syria – charges denied by Turkey and Azerbaijan.
French President Macron slammed Turkey on Thursday, saying intelligence reports suggested that 300 fighters from “jihadist groups” in Syria had passed through Turkey en route to Azerbaijan.
“A red line has been crossed,” the French leader said, adding that his country demanded an explanation.
Macron issued his warning at a European Union summit in Brussels, urging “all NATO partners to face up to the behaviour of a NATO member”.
In a joint appeal on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin, US President Donald Trump and Macron urged the two sides to return to negotiations aimed at resolving their long-standing territorial dispute.
Russia also suggested it was making progress in diplomatic efforts with Turkey, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu saying they were ready for “close coordination” to stabilise the situation.
Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades-long dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, the breakaway region which is inside Azerbaijan but controlled by ethnic Armenians backed by Yerevan.
Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan during a war in the 1990s which killed 30,000, but is not recognised by any country, including Armenia, as an independent republic.
Fighting periodically breaks out in the region and talks to resolve the conflict have largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement.
Armenia and Karabakh declared martial law and military mobilisation on Sunday, while Azerbaijan imposed military rule and a curfew in large cities.